In his first two games this season, Thunder power forward Serge Ibaka shot a combined 5 for 18 (. 278) from the field.
In his last two postseason games, Ibaka has shot a combined 5 for 23 (. 217) from the field.
These bookend performances are not Ibaka's true identity. The man who made 475 of 831 (. 572) shots in between is a far more accurate gauge of the consistently deadly shooter Ibaka has become.
Sports are about what you have done lately, and lately Ibaka inexplicably has struggled to make shots.
Just before the final buzzer sounded in Game 4 against Houston last week, Ibaka missed a put-back bunny off a Reggie Jackson miss that would have sent the game into overtime.
A devastated Ibaka crumbled to the Toyota Center floor as though he had just cost his team Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
“Serge don't get over stuff like that until after the next game,” teammate Kendrick Perkins explained. “One thing you've got to know about him, he's going to come out and be aggressive. You could tell it was still on his mind, it (losing Game 4) was on all of our minds.”
Thunder sixth man Kevin Martin said whenever a teammate is struggling to make shots, moral support quickly follows.
“You want to tell them to just keep on doing what they've been doing all year,” Martin said. “You come in today and work hard and have a better outing tomorrow night.”
Martin was on the receiving end of such treatment after shooting just 1 for 10 from the field in Game 5 against the Rockets, which stung even more because it came in a potential series-clincher that OKC lost in its home arena.
Coincidentally, Ibaka also shot 1 for 10 in Game 1 against Memphis on Sunday at Chesapeake Energy Arena, a game the Thunder was still able to win 93-91. That followed a 4-for-13 shooting night from Ibaka in Game 6 at Houston, another game OKC was able to win.
Therein is the silver lining. In the two games Ibaka has struggled mightily to hit shots, the Thunder has still been victorious.
But how much longer will Ibaka continue to struggle offensively? Does that Game 4 miss still linger in the mind of a 23-year-old from the Republic of Congo?
“No, I don't think it is,” Perkins said. “I think Serge is probably the best mid-range post shooter in the league, so I'm pretty sure he's confident in his abilities and I'm sure we'll see more shots go in (Tuesday) night.”
To be fair, the Thunder's second-round opponent is the NBA's most physical team and Ibaka certainly could have been distracted with the awesome responsibility of defending Memphis power forward Zach Randolph (18 points, 10 rebounds).
“He just missed shots,” OKC coach Scott Brooks said of Ibaka after Monday's practice. “He missed some shots that he works on every day and he's working on it right now.”
As Brooks spoke, Ibaka was at the opposite end of the court, working feverishly on his jumper, as he does after every practice.
Perhaps Sunday was something the Grizzlies did defensively against Ibaka.
“It was great defense by us,” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said sarcastically. “The guy was wide open. He missed nine shots wide open. He made one jump shot on the baseline and didn't make another jump shot. We can't count on him going 1 for 10 every game.”
Martin has recovered magnificently from his 1 for 10 outing, shooting a combined 15 for 27 (. 556) from the field and 6 for 10 (. 600) from 3-point range while averaging 25.0 points in the last two games.
What awaits Ibaka in Game 2 against Memphis on Tuesday at 8:30 p. m.?
“I believe in what he does,” Brooks said. “I believe he can make shots and we have to continue to look for him because he's an important part of what we do offensively. … That put-back, that was a tough miss, but I think it's behind him. He's just missing some shots right now.”